Global Wardrobe
Study

The Woolmark Company x Nielsen

Foreword

Our wardrobes are growing, which comes as no surprise given fibre production for clothing and the amount of clothes produced, is on the rise. But, like most things in life, we have options. Consumers have the power to choose what they wear and this choice can ultimately have a huge impact on what designers, brands and retailers produce.

Consumers have the power to make a difference.

For many, it may come as a surprise that our love for clothing is putting a strain on the environment. And with phrases such as “climate crisis” becoming the new normal, it’s time for individuals to pay attention to everyday habits. One small action, as insignificant as it may seem, can cumulatively have enormous impact. From wearing our clothes for longer, doing laundry less frequently, or paying attention to what our clothes are actually made of, consumers have the power to make a difference and influence brands’ business decisions.

This report examines consumer wardrobe and laundry behaviours, offering solutions to help reduce our impact on the environment every day.

Wool garments are amongst the longest kept in the wardrobe, are washed less frequently and tend to live on through re-sale or change of ownership.

The Wardrobe Study – methodology

A new study of more than 1000 consumers from across the world, aged 18 to 64, has found that wool garments are amongst the longest kept in the wardrobe, are washed less frequently and tend to live on through re-sale or change of ownership.

Since 2010, The Woolmark Company has been working with Nielsen to gain a deeper understanding of consumer perceptions and behaviours within the fabric and apparel textile industry in key markets across the globe. In late 2018, The Woolmark Company engaged Nielsen to obtain a current and objective understanding of the content of wardrobes and laundering habits for both males and females across five key consumer markets: China, Japan, Germany, UK and USA.

The recent survey aimed to identify the impact that consumer group, product type and functional use, garment composition (fabric), frequency of use and frequency and type of cleaning has on the active lifetime of clothing items. A pilot study was first undertaken in 2012, and so it is important to see how wardrobes and laundry habits have changed in the past seven years.

Since 2012, both men and women have seen an increase in the average number of items owned, with sportswear gaining significant ground in the male wardrobe.
01

The Female Wardrobe

The share of wool clothing in the female wardrobe has increased since 2012.

Wool’s presence in the female wardrobe has
increased from 8% in 2012 to 12% in 2018.

THE TYPES OF FABRIC WOMEN OWN

Significantly higher than Winter 2012

Significantly lower than Winter 2012

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
38%
24%
4%
3%
1%
1%
2%
5%
12%
7%
Wool (Net)

8%

Winter 2012

(n=29023)

30%
25%
4%
6%
2%
2%
2%
2%
18%
8%
Wool (Net)

12%

Winter 2018

(n=31295)

Significantly higher than Winter 2012

Significantly lower than Winter 2012

The make-up – in terms of the types of items owned – of women’s wardrobes has not changed significantly since 2012. As with men, there has been an increase in the number of sportswear items purchased in line with the global trend of the activewear market being the fastest–growing sector of the $1.7 trillion global textile business; the global sports apparel market is estimated to generate about $US174 billion in revenue in 2018.

In the female wardrobe, 1 in every
10 items is made with wool.

Wool has an increased presence in the female wardrobe - up from 8% in 2012 to 12% in 2018. The most marked increase, however, has been in synthetics, which now make up 18% of the female wardrobe. Mirroring the trend seen with males, cotton has seen a decrease in the overall share of women’s wardrobes, as women have moved to a wider variety of fabrics.

Wool clothes are also among the longest kept in the female wardrobe

Wool’s role in the female wardrobe

THE FEMALE WARDROBE – INVESTMENT PIECES

5%
Wool and wool blends
2.5%
Cotton and polyester

% of clothing purchased 10+ years ago

  • 1 in every 10 items comprises wool, with sweaters, jackets, coats and scarves the most likely to be made from wool or wool blends.
  • 5% of these wool garments were purchased more than 10 years ago, double that of cotton and polyester.
02

The Male Wardrobe

The share of wool clothing has increased in the male wardrobe since 2012.

Wool–rich items of clothing are on the rise.

THE TYPES OF FABRIC MEN OWN

Significantly higher than Winter 2012

Significantly lower than Winter 2012

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
47%
18%
7%
4%
2%
1%
4%
3%
6%
7%
Wool (Net)

13%

Winter 2012

(n=22838)

39%
22%
7%
7%
2%
1%
1%
2%
12%
6%
Wool (Net)

16%

Winter 2018

(n=22166)

Significantly higher than Winter 2012

Significantly lower than Winter 2012

According to the Nielsen Wardrobe Survey, the male wardrobe has evolved across the past seven years, particularly with the growth of sportswear.

122
items of clothing owned by the average male.
8+
increase of items on average since 2012.

As seen with females, cotton has lost some of its share of the wardrobe - being replaced by woollens and synthetics. The share of woollens in the male wardrobe has increased since 2012, primarily driven by an increased presence of garments made from wool blends. Garments made of 100% cotton, silk and denim have all seen decreases as males move to blended or synthetic fabrics.

9% of wool garments were purchased more than 10 years ago, compared to just 3% of cotton and polyester clothing.

Wool’s role in the male wardrobe

Wool garments are amongst the longest kept articles of clothing owned by males, with only 10% of wool and wool blend garments bought in the past 6 months. In contrast, approximately one quarter of cotton and cotton blends, or one third of denim garments, have been purchased by males in the past 6 months.

THE MALE WARDROBE – INVESTMENT PIECES

9%
Wool and wool blends
3%
Cotton and polyester

% of clothing purchased 10+ years ago

Of wool garments, 9% were purchased more than 10 years ago, compared to just 3% of cotton and polyester clothing.

Trans-seasonal garments – such as those made from Merino wool – can be worn for longer, rather than just for certain months. The Nielsen study showed that one third of all Merino wool and wool blend garments were being used year–round. In addition, wool – particularly Merino wool – is typically one of the longest kept garments in the wardrobe. This complements other studies highlighting the environmental credentials of wool, which state of the major apparel fibres, wool is the most reusable and recyclable fibre available1.

03

The Garment Lifecycle

The garment lifecycle

Purchase
Wear
Laundry
Disposal

Of the common apparel fibre types, wool provides the global apparel industry with the most reused and recyclable fibre, with data in the UK suggesting a high donation share for wool, three–times more than the fibre‘s share of new material use. Studies have identified a high donation rate of wool garments – at about 5%, which far exceeds wool‘s 1.3% share of virgin fibre supply3.

Studies have identified a high donation rate of wool garments – at about 5%, which far exceeds wool’s 1.3% share of virgin fibre supply3.

In fact, wool‘s recycling industry is 200 years old, so it comes as no surprise wool has the highest share of fibres recycled, giving it a second and possibly third life, including use for industrial and automotive insulation. But what else can we learn about consumer habits during the use phase of a garment?

For men, wool garments are primarily used for work and formal occasions. However, a distinction between wool and Merino wool has been made, with men citing Merino wool being suitable for a wider variety of occasions, most of which are casual. In contrast, women are more likely to use wool clothing for casual, everyday occasions, with winter being the dominate season.

Life Cycle Assessments of clothing

Mend

Donate

Give to friend/family

The sustainability impacts of the global textiles industry are important for consumers, brands and the environment, but ‘sustainability’ is a difficult term to understand and communicate, with little agreement scientifically on what constitutes a sustainable product. There are many ways to assess environmental sustainability. One popular method is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

LCA is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life, from raw material extraction through processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. All these phases of a garment’s supply chain affect the environment in some way. However, LCA is a young science and there are severe shortcomings to current ratings because they consider only a limited part of the supply chain and only consider some environmental impacts.

Most LCA studies for clothing are based on the assumption that garments are immediately landfilled (or disposed of) at the end of their first life phase. A common thread throughout the clothing life-cycle is the opportunity to better inform consumers about what to do with clothing when items are no longer wanted, but also placing greater value on the clothes they buy and wear. As evident in the Wardrobe Study, wool clothes are among the oldest in the wardrobe and have a high donation rate, promoting a long first life and a rich afterlife.

We need robust, accurate and reliable methods to generate meaningful ratings that can be trusted by all parts of the supply chain, including consumers.
Dr Stephen Wiedemann

Wool’s life cycle assessment

Production
Processing
Distribution
End-of-life
Usage and recycling

One of the more well-known environmental impact ratings agencies is the Material Sustainability Index (MSI) created by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, based on its own LCA model. It’s widely agreed the MSI will bring consumer attention to the lifecycle of a garment and have a positive effect on the apparel and textiles industry. However, a recent study by Dr Stephen Wiedemann and Dr Kalinda Watson of Integrity AG & Environment has identified weaknesses in the underlying science that informs the MSI. The study concluded the index currently fails to include two main parts of the product lifecycle in its calculations – the use phase and end of life. The former of these is generally the highest impact stage of a product’s lifecycle, while failing to explore the latter ignores the major and urgent problem of fast fashion which is often viewed as ‘disposable’

Whilst the environmental impact of producing wool is more significant at the earlier end of the supply chain, it is a superior, natural fibre that lasts longer than other fibres, requires less washing and is frequently recycled to extend the use phase even further. In addition, wool fibres are 100% biodegradable in both land and marine environments.

Linear vs Recycling vs Circular Economy

Linear Economy
Recycling Economy
Circular Economy

In order to move away from a linear design model to a circular model, it’s important to adopt a Cradle to Cradle design approach. The Cradle to Cradle model - popularised by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book of the same name - considers a product’s full life as well as its potential for repurposing rather than disposal. In wool’s case, this is from its cradle on the farm, through all life stages in its first life and then back to the cradle of its second life which can be in the form of a new owner, new purpose through closed loop recycling or open loop downcycling (where the product is recycled into another type of product) or the fibre’s ultimate biodegradation back into the soil.

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Wool and LCA
ratings

Reuse, Repair, Recycle: Wool provides the global apparel industry with the most reused and recyclable fibre, of the common apparel fibre types. A life long-lived – wool garments are typically kept for a long time and have a high emotional value. Donations in the UK suggest a high donation rate for wool, 3x more than wool’s share of new material use. Learn to care by repair – wool has a long history of being mended. Breathe new life – wool’s recycling industry is 200 years old, with wool having the highest share of fibres recycled. Wool garments are easily turned into new yarns or products (both apparel and interiors) to live another life or two.

Males are more likely to put cotton blends and synthetic clothes in the bin when the garments are no longer wanted.

Cotton blends & synthetics are more likely to be put in the bin when the garments are no longer wanted.

HOW MEN DISPOSE OF THEIR GARMENTS – BY FABRIC TYPE

Significantly higher than Total

Significantly lower than Total

*Includes: Polyester / Nylon / Acrylic / Polypropylene and Viscose / Rayon / Modal / Lyocell / Acetate

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
38%
11%
28%
8%
3%
2%
10%
Total

(n=16630)

43%
8%
29%
10%
2%
1%
6%
100% Cotton

(n=5644)

39%
12%
30%
8%
3%
2%
6%
Cotton Blends

(n=3760)

37%
17%
25%
6%
4%
2%
8%
100% Wool

(n=1382)

22%
23%
23%
15%
5%
1%
12%
Merino Wool

(n=339)

44%
12%
25%
9%
4%
1%
5%
Wool Blends

(n=1347)

41%
14%
22%
7%
3%
3%
9%
Cashmere

(n=278)

47%
14%
19%
5%
8%
2%
5%
Silk

(n=113)

33%
11%
37%
7%
2%
1%
8%
Polyester / nylon etc.*

(n=2038)

54%
9%
19%
11%
5%
1%
1%
Viscose / rayon etc.*

(n=245)

35%
28%
18%
7%
4%
2%
6%
Denim

(n=355)

Significantly higher than Total

Significantly lower than Total

*Includes: Polyester / Nylon / Acrylic / Polypropylene and Viscose / Rayon / Modal / Lyocell / Acetate

According to the Nielsen survey, men are more likely to donate or recycle wool items rather than simply throwing them out, with wool blend items performing the highest in this category. Merino wool items are likely to be passed on to family or friends, outranked only by denim which highlights the emotional value held with clothes made from natural fibres. In contrast, the survey found cotton, cotton blends and synthetics are more likely to be put in the bin when the garments are no longer wanted.

Women‘s woollens are more likely to be donated to family & friends or sold.

Evidently, consumers attempt to retain the value of premium clothing items by either keeping them
in the family or selling them.

HOW WOMEN DISPOSE OF THEIR GARMENTS – BY FABRIC TYPE

Significantly higher than Total

Significantly lower than Total

*Includes: Polyester / Nylon / Acrylic / Polypropylene and Viscose / Rayon / Modal / Lyocell / Acetate

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
34%
13%
27%
8%
5%
2%
11%
Total

(n=23726)

33%
12%
31%
12%
3%
2%
7%
100% Cotton

(n=6280)

40%
15%
26%
8%
4%
2%
6%
Cotton Blends

(n=5644)

29%
19%
26%
6%
7%
2%
11%
100% Wool

(n=1199)

27%
28%
22%
8%
9%
1%
5%
Merino Wool

(n=424)

35%
19%
23%
7%
8%
1%
7%
Wool Blends

(n=1796)

32%
25%
18%
6%
7%
2%
10%
Cashmere

(n=445)

33%
21%
19%
6%
8%
6%
8%
Silk

(n=415)

37%
10%
33%
5%
7%
1%
6%
Polyester / nylon etc.*

(n=3844)

42%
13%
25%
7%
5%
2%
6%
Viscose / rayon etc.*

(n=985)

43%
19%
16%
9%
7%
2%
4%
Denim

(n=658)

Significantly higher than Total

Significantly lower than Total

*Includes: Polyester / Nylon / Acrylic / Polypropylene and Viscose / Rayon / Modal / Lyocell / Acetate

Given the premium nature of wool, women prefer to keep wool items within the family or sell them in order to retain their value, according to Nielsen. Silk and cashmere also perform well in this category, highlighting the value of natural fibres within the circular economy. Cottons and synthetics are more likely to be discarded, which can mean they are destined for landfill.

The 2017 WRAP report Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion found that by extending the active life of 50% of UK clothing by just 9 months would save 8% carbon, 10% water and 4% waste per tonne of clothing. The same report found that if 5–10% of clothing sales were via hire and repair models to extend their active life, the savings could be 30 to 60 million cubic meters of water and 80,000 to 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Not only does extending a garment’s first – and even second – use phase offer a less impactful environmental solution, renew and repair services can provide growth opportunities for businesses.

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Wool Care

04

Laundry Habits

As part of the Global Wardrobe Study,180 participants were recruited to take part in a four-week diary study in February 2019 to record their laundry habits which saw 3253 total laundry occasions captured, including washing in a domestic machine, hand washing, line drying, tumble drying and dry-cleaning clothes.

From the laundry diary – most participants owned their own washing machine,
or at least shared one within their household.

With generally larger household, respondents in China were more likely to share
the washing machine with their household.

WASHING MACHINE OWNERSHIP AND USAGE – BY COUNTRY

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
56%
24%
60%
74%
70%
65%
I use my own washing machine
40%
72%
40%
24%
27%
23%
I use a washing machine shared by my household (i.e. family / flatmates)
2%
0%
0%
3%
3%
4%
I go to a laundromat to do my laundry
1%
0%
0%
0%
0%
8%
I use a washing machine shared by those in my apartment complex
1%
3%
0%
0%
0%
0%
I don't use any washing machine to do my laundry

The vast majority of participants use a washing machine within their own household. However, when it comes to the drying stage, consumers are less likely to own a tumble dryer – with just under half of participants not using a tumble dryer to dry their clothes. Instead, these consumers tend to dry their clothes on a clothes line. Due to generally colder climates, those in European markets are more likely to dry their clothes indoors, whereas those in Asian markets tend to use outdoor clothes lines.

Washed less often than other types of clothes and at cooler temperatures, woollens had a very low presence in the machine wash and tumble–dry options, with wool present in just 8% of tumble–dry loads.

Woollens were only present in 8% of tumble dry loads.

A tumble dry cycle typically takes 45 minutes and these loads are less likely to be
full, when compared to machine wash loads.

TUMBLE DRYER CONTENTS – BY FABRIC TYPE

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
59%
100% Cotton
62%
Cotton Blends
31%
Polyester / nylon etc.*
12%
Viscose / rayon etc.*
16%
Denim
5%
Wool Blends
2%
100% Wool
1%
Merino Wool
1%
Silk
1%
Cashmere
7%
Other

Resistant to stains, odour and wrinkles, wool garments require less washing and drying, saving you time, helping you tread a little lighter and ultimately reducing your energy bill. Odours can easily be aired out and stains removed using a damp cloth. Wool apparel is generally washed in cooler water temperatures using a wool cycle, and dried in the fresh air, resulting in a lower environmental impact than other fibres.

WASHING MACHINE CONTENTS – BY FABRIC TYPE

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
69%
100% Cotton
69%
Cotton Blends
44%
Polyester / nylon etc.*
16%
Viscose / rayon etc.*
14%
Denim / Jeans fabric
10%
Wool Blends
3%
100% Wool
1%
Merino Wool
2%
Silk
1%
Cashmere
1%
Other

Woollens – similar to other premium natural fibres, such as silk or cashmere – are perceived to be very difficult to care for. But, we know this is not the case. There appears to be a relationship between perceived ease of care and frequency of following garment care instructions. Taking 100% wool as an example, nearly half of consumers perceive the fibre as not easy to care for while 43% state they ‘always’ or ‘often’ follow the instructions for 100% wool garments.

Generally, consumers are more likely to follow the garment care instructions for premium fabrics, such as wool, silk and cashmere. Wool items are perceived easier to care for by consumers in the UK and USA. Cotton and synthetics are by far the most commonly present fabrics in domestic laundry.

Another study of consumer laundry habits, prepared by Ipsos MORI for Electrolux, evaluated laundry habits of 6000 consumers in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia. This research focused on three key areas: current habits and challenges faced; usage and understanding of care labels; and perceptions of sustainability.

Ironing Board

Understanding care labels

The majority of consumers surveyed state their household has a washing machine, although the proportion is lower in Russia, where claimed ownership of all–in–one washer dryers is higher than expected. More than two thirds of UK respondents state they have a good/reasonable knowledge of how to do laundry and they are less likely than those in other markets to state they don‘t know/hardly know/only know the basics about how to do laundry.

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Washing instructions explained

Overall, the majority of consumers with current / previous responsibility for laundry say they learnt their habits from their family. However, those in Russia are significantly more likely to have taught themselves their habits – this is cited as a source by 70% of those surveyed versus just 30% in Spain.

Extent to which care labels are understood

Significantly higher at 95% than the markets indicated

Significantly lower at 95% than the markets indicated

19%
46%
27%
4%
3%
Total
65%
All / most
15%
44%
33%
4%
3%
UK
59
%
21%
47%
24%
6%
3%
France
68%
21%
57%
17%
3%
3%
Germany
78
%
22%
43%
27%
5%
4%
Italy
65%
13%
41%
37%
5%
4%
Spain
54
%
23%
47%
24%
3%
3%
Russia
70
%

Significantly higher at 95% than the markets indicated

Significantly lower at 95% than the markets indicated

Overall, almost two thirds of those surveyed believe they understand all or most care instruction labels, but this is significantly lower in Spain (54%) and the UK (59%) and significantly higher in Germany (78%). More than one third of respondents state they always or nearly always check care instruction labels when purchasing clothes, although this drops to 27% in the UK where consumers are significantly more likely to say ‘not very often/hardly ever/never’ in comparison to other markets.

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Wet Cleaning

Delicate items are least likely to be cared for in a machine, particularly leather/suede items. Those in Italy, Spain and Russia are typically more cautious about machine washing than those in the UK, France and Germany – with the latter the most likely to use a machine for washing all delicate clothes types. Half of those surveyed would consider putting an item labelled as ‘dry clean only’ into a washing machine, rising to 62% in the UK and Germany where confidence is higher.

Checking care instructions when purchasing clothes

Significantly higher at 95% than the markets indicated

Significantly lower at 95% than the markets indicated

Q. When purchasing clothes, how often, if at all, do you check the care instructions labels?

Q. How important do you consider the care instructions to be when deciding whether to purchase clothes?

100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
36%
14%
19%
29%
2%
64%

(n=6000)   (n=5252)

Total
27%

FR GE IT SP RU

12%
22%

FR IT SP

38%

FR IT SP GE RU

2%
61%

FR IT SP

(n=1000)   (n=855)

UK
36%
15%
16%

GE RU

32%

GE IT RU

2%
71%

(n=1000)   (n=840)

France
33%
18%

UK FR SP RU

23%

IT SP

25%
2%
59%

FR IT SP

(n=1000)   (n=892)

Germany
43%

FR GE SP

15%
17%
23%
1%
73%

(n=1000)   (n=894)

Italy
36%
13%
17%
32%

GE IT RU

2%
74%

(n=1000)   (n=866)

Spain
43%

FR GE SP

11%

FR IT

20%
25%
2%
46%

UK FR GE IT SP

(n=1000)   (n=905)

Russia

Significantly higher at 95% than the markets indicated

Significantly lower at 95% than the markets indicated

Q. When purchasing clothes, how often, if at all, do you check the care instructions labels?

Q. How important do you consider the care instructions to be when deciding whether to purchase clothes?

64%

of those who check care instruction labels consider the care instructions to be ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important when deciding whether to purchase clothes.

05

Conclusion

From wearing clothes for longer, doing laundry less frequently, or paying attention to what our clothes are actually made from, consumers have the power to make a difference and influence brands' business decisions – from sourcing, to manufacturing and end of life.

The Wardrobe Study, prepared by Nielsen, surveyed 1000 consumers from key markets across the world and found that wool garments are amongst the longest kept in the wardrobe, are washed less frequently and tend to live on through re–sale or change of ownership.

The Male Wardrobe

For the male wardrobe, the share of woollens has increased since 2012, primarily driven by an increased presence of wool blends. Wool – particularly Merino – is typically one of the oldest garments in the wardrobe, with over a third of Merino garments worn all year-round.

The Female Wardrobe

For the female wardrobe, wool has enjoyed an increased presence in the female wardrobe – up from 8% in 2012 to 12% in 2018. Of wool garments, 5% were purchased more than 10 years ago, compared to 2.5% of garments made from cotton and polyester in the same timeframe. Again, this makes wool garments the longest kept in the wardrobe.

The Garment Lifecycle

When the disposal stage of a garment is reached, men are more likely to donate or recycle wool items than throw them away. Cotton blends and synthetics are more likely to be put in the bin when the garments are no longer wanted. Given the more premium nature of wool, women prefer to keep these items within the family or sell them in order to retain their value. Cottons and synthetics are more likely to be discarded due to wear and tear.

Laundry Habits

Laundry habits can differ drastically dependent on the country in which it takes place. Generally, consumers are more likely to follow the garment care instructions for premium fabrics, such as wool, silk and cashmere. Cotton and synthetics are by far the most commonly present fabrics in loads of washing.

What is in our wardrobes transcends far more than merely what we decide to wear each day. What we choose to purchase has flow-on effects across the entire apparel and textile industry, and ultimately can impact the health of the environment. By choosing garments made from eco-friendly fibres (such as those made from natural sources including wool), buying investment pieces and doing laundry less frequently, more considered wardrobe choices are less detrimental for the health of our planet.

1 & 2. Russell SJ et al. Review of wool recycling and reuse. Proceedings of 2nd International Conference on Natural Fibers, 2015, 4.

3. Y Chang, H. L Chen, and S Francis, Market Applications for Recycled Postconsumer Fibres Family and Consumer Science 1999. 27(3): p. 320. 16. G. D. Ward, A. D. Hewitt, and S. J. Russell, Proceedings of the ICE. Waste and Resource Management 2013. 166(1): p. 29-37. PCI Wood Mackenzie, Red Book 2016 – Long term global study / Demand uptake.